Friday 23 May 2014

Porn in depth ... or maybe not

About ten years ago I was making a composite Photoshop graphic and wanted the naked torso of a woman to start. Lucky old me – Mr J is a sculptor with loads of photographic reference. “I need a picture of a woman’s breasts, this sort of shape, this sort of angle” I said to him, confused by his slackening jaw. “Deb” he replied, “you must be the only person I know with an internet connection who doesn’t know how to find tits.”

Fair enough … I’ve got better at it. I think we can agree the internet has boobs aplenty, although accurately measuring porn traffic and content is problematic. So all that bandwidth isn’t devoted to watching kittens after all.

The subject of Tyger Drew-Honey’s recent BBC3 Tyger Takes On … was porn – specifically, the effect it may be having upon his generation. Better known to most as the oldest kid from Outnumbered, Tyger is a contemporary teenager, so he has grown up with the kind of access to hardcore images that previous generations could only dream of. In addition, his parents were well-known workers in the industry: his porn-performer and producer father’s stage name is Ben Dover, and his mother Linzi Drew was an adult model, porn-performer and one-time editor of Penthouse.

Change in the industry in the last twenty years has been massive and technology-driven. The factors that have made porn so easily available have also dismantled entry barriers into the industry, and pushed prices considerably southwards. A female porn performer to whom Tyger spoke to at an award ceremony lamented the fact that anyone thinks they can be a porn “star”; Ben Dover mourned an abandoned studio: “The Marie Celeste of the porn world – a metaphor for the porn world today”.

Understandably, nobody in protected professions likes progress which strips them of their monopoly, but the reality is that just as anyone with a satnav is potentially a taxi-driver, anyone with genitals and a lack of inhibitions is now potentially a porn performer. But before we get the violins out, we should remember that this is not a decline in porn – quite the contrary - just decline of big money due to reduced exclusivity of distribution.

This is where the habitual use of the term ‘star’ for any person who commits their fornicating to film is palpably ridiculous: a ‘star’ is a person who has a brand. Stars have clout, control over their careers, merchandising and contracts. In fact, very few porn performers get to this point, and they don’t earn a huge amount on their way. I think I’d probably want more than eight hundred quid (minus my agent’s 15%) for filmed anal sex, especially since the internet does not have amnesia.

But enough of the effect on the industry’s participants: the intended thrust of the programme was the effect the output porn has on people who have grown up with it.

It is used, predictably, as an instructional manual: “Take that video and do it on a bird” inarticulated one young man … which is great in the event the porn he consumes reflects what his lover wants. In an industry whose majority output is consumed by men, is that likely?

Is it possible to become addicted to porn? I have my doubts, but I suppose addiction is compulsion in relation to a normal but condensed stimulus. If cocaine is a condensed stimulus to a dopamine hit, is porn condensed sex? One contributor commented upon the number of times “I’ve been with a girl and wished I was at home with porn”. “Yep – I’ve been out with women like that” piped up Mr J. A young man called Randeep took up boxing to keep occupied and away from porn: well, if you’re going to watch someone get battered around the ring …

But I can’t be as jocular about the coercion and violence. An anonymous contributor habitually watched rape-porn with her boyfriend and they found themselves replaying the scenes: sexual violence had become normalised. She’s clearly not happy with what happened but “I don’t feel like I’m his victim … I feel like I’m porn’s victim”.

Is this an excuse too far? Her euphemistic phrasing - “anal sex without permission” – suggested she has a vocabulary to displace the blame. The word she needed was ‘rape’. Correlation and causation are devilishly tough to disentangle, but women were being violated for a long time prior to rape-porn. It’s hard to believe that a man of his generation could be so oblivious to the issue of consent. In a reasonable world he’s culpable, whether he’s been watching porn or cartoons.

Tyger concluded that “maybe my own sex life has been informed by porn”. He felt “slightly robbed” by a three minute erotic dance which cost twenty quid. If you can have steak for free, sizzle at four hundred quid an hour probably is a bit steep. “The fantasy of porn is helping us to disconnect from the reality of sex” he concluded.

So … worth an hour of your time? Given that there are some extremely presentable people who inform authoritatively on sex issues this programme seemed to be less an incisive examination of real issues than a vehicle for someone who’s accrued ace meeja contacts and some great PR outreach virtue of The Daily Mail. If you’ve watched existing quality pieces such as Lisa Rogers The Perfect Vagina watching someone pick the low-hanging fruit of interviewing their own Mum and Dad may not satisfy.